Getting Married and Registering at the Registry Office: A Complete Guide
If a religious ceremony or a large wedding do not appeal to you, you should consider getting married at a registry office.
In the United Kingdom, a registry office can be used to declare a birth, death, marriage, or civil partnership - and, most importantly for our purposes, they can also be used for wedding ceremonies. They can be a lovely, low-key alternative to the traditional big white wedding. Registry office weddings are also a great way to save money on your wedding budget because fees are often lower than for other types of ceremony venues.
The size of registry office ceremony rooms varies. Within each structure, there will typically be areas for couples with larger guest lists as well as an intimate room suitable for small weddings. A registry office ceremony can be followed by either an intimate dinner with your closest friends and family or a larger reception, depending on your preferences.
Another reason to consider a registry office wedding is that you are getting married abroad. Some countries make it difficult to legally marry, so it may be easier to have a registry office wedding in the UK to ensure all the legalities are in order before you jet off, and then have a blessing ceremony at your chosen destination.
Whatever your reason for considering a registry office wedding, here's everything you need to know to get started with your planning.
Who Can Marry at a Registry Office?
Who can marry in a registry office follows the same rules as who can marry elsewhere in the UK.
To be legally married in the United Kingdom, you and your partner must be at least 16 years old (though in England and Wales, if either of you is under the age of 18, your parents must give their consent), and you must not be closely related (hopefully this one is obvious).
Anyone from outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland is subject to different rules. If your partner is not from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, or the European Economic Area and is not settled in the United Kingdom, they must apply for a marriage or civil partnership visitor visa.
The details for various scenarios are available on the UK government website.
READ MORE: Everything You Need to Know About Civil Ceremonies
What Are the Requirements for Getting Married in a Registry Office?
To get married in a registry office, you must first decide which one to use. It could be the one closest to your home, the registry office in the town where you were born, or simply somewhere special to you. Simply enter your postcode into this registry office finder to get started.
You'll need to notify your local registry office once you've decided on a date and location for your ceremony (depending on the registrar's availability). This is the same procedure as if you were getting married at another registered location, such as a barn or country house.
If you intend to marry at a registry office outside your district, you should still go to your local one to give notice. They will be able to notify the office where you intend to marry on your behalf. You must then contact the registry office where you want to marry to schedule a 15-minute appointment. You will be interviewed, have forms filled out, and your identity will be verified at this appointment. If you and your partner live in different registration districts, you must give notice to each of your local registry offices separately. You are not required to do this on the same day.
You have 12 months from the date you give notice to marry, and you can give notice up to 28 days before the proposed wedding date. However, we would not recommend leaving things this late. The registrar needs time to determine whether the two of you are available and willing to marry, and the registry office must be open on the date you have chosen.
When you first visit the registry office, you must bring proof of your name, age, and nationality with you. This could be a current passport, birth certificate, national identity card, registration certificate, naturalisation certificate, biometric residence card or permit, or travel document. If you have changed your name, you must also bring proof, such as a deed poll and proof of address.
You must also bring proof of address, such as a valid UK or EEA driving licence, a gas or electricity bill from the last three months, a bank statement from the previous month, or a council tax bill or mortgage settlement from the previous 12 months. Before you go, check with your local registry office to see what they will need from you. For example, some may require a photographic form of ID.
When you send your marriage notice application form, you must also include the originals of your birth or adoption certificate and passport. If you've previously been married, you'll need to provide your divorce decree, the marriage certificate from your previous marriage, and a death certificate, if your previous spouse died.
After everything has been sent off, you may be asked to visit your registrar's office ahead of time to make final arrangements or to pick up the marriage schedule. After you've said your vows, the registrar will issue you a marriage certificate and register the marriage on the day of the ceremony.
READ MORE: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Married
How Much Does Getting Married in a Registry Office Cost?
If you choose to marry at a registry office, you must pay for the use of a registry office room, each person's notice, and a marriage certificate.
The cost of renting a room in a registry office typically begins at £57 for a simple ceremony.
When you present your notice application, the fee for giving notice is usually £35 per person. If either of you is not from the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland, the fee rises to £47 per person. and you need a visa to live in the UK and you do not have a Marriage or Civil Partnership Visitor visa or a family visa
Finally, you'll have to pay for your marriage certificate. This costs £4 on the day or £10 if you collect it later, though many registry offices include the cost of the certificate in the room price. We always advise keeping a copy of your marriage certificate on hand at home.
Additional costs may include: paying for a ceremony room rather than just a registry office room; additional charges for Saturday notice appointments; and fees paid for approving divorce documents from outside the UK or making changes to your application.
How Long Does a Registry Office Wedding Take?
A marriage ceremony in a local registry office takes about 10-15 minutes.
How Many Witnesses Are Required at a Registry Office Wedding?
As romantic as it may sound to get married with only the two of you present, you cannot say "I do" in the absence of witnesses.
Your marriage must not only be performed by (or in the presence of) a person authorized to register marriages in the district, but you must also have at least two witnesses.
Before signing at the time of marriage, these two witnesses must witness the ceremony. Witnesses are not required by law to be of a specific age, but you should check with the person marrying you to see if they have an age limit on who they will accept. And you don't even have to know your witnesses.
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What Is the Format of a Registry Office Wedding?
You couldn't be more wrong if you think registry office weddings are boring. According to the General Register Office, you can tailor the ceremony to your own personal tastes, needs, and ideas.
Although registry offices are typically decorated with flowers prior to the ceremony, there is nothing stopping you from creating your own floral display or decorations. However, keep in mind that several weddings may be held on the same day as yours, making any elaborate decorations or displays impossible. They'd take far too long to erect and demolish.
At a registry office, you can choose your own music and readings, but hymns or Bible passages are not permitted. Music and readings with religious overtones are not permitted.
If you want to have or do something out of the ordinary at your registry office wedding, you should contact your local superintendent registrar. They may have different criteria for what is and isn't permitted during the ceremony, and they should be willing to discuss your suggestions.
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Do I Have to Get Married in a UK Registry Office Before Marrying Abroad?
It will depend on the country in which you are getting married whether you need to get legally married in the UK before leaving.
Many countries require a minimum period of residency before granting a marriage license. In parts of Italy, it varies between four and seven days, but in France, at least one of the parties must demonstrate that they have lived in the country for at least 30 days prior to applying for a marriage license. You can only marry in Spain if you've been a resident for the last two years, or if you live in the UK and either party is a Spanish national. A British couple living in the UK cannot have a legal wedding in Spain unless they move to Spain for two years.
Begin your research early, and if the country where you want to marry has a minimum residency period, it may be easier to get married in a registry office in the UK and then simply hold a blessing abroad.
READ MORE: The 32 Best Destination Wedding Venues in the World
What Should You Wear to a Wedding at the Registry Office?
Whether your registry office wedding is the main event or a side event to your destination wedding, you'll want to look and feel your best when you exchange vows. We say anything goes when it comes to what to wear to a registry office wedding.
If you're a bride who fantasizes about traditional wedding gowns, there's nothing stopping you from wearing a classic look, whether it's a ballgown or a fishtail - it's your wedding, your way. Of course, you could use the fact that you're getting married at a registry office as an excuse to break with tradition. You could wear sleek bridal tailoring or a shorter gown to make it more casual. Everything is completely up to you.
If you're still stumped, we've compiled a list of our favorite registry office wedding dresses, as well as some expert advice on registry office wedding fashion. If you want something different, take a look at our selection of bridal jumpsuits.
Grooms should dress in something that makes them feel good. A sharp tailored suit, something more colorful and fun, or a relaxed shirt and trouser combo are all possibilities. Speak with your partner about how formal/casual you want your ceremony to be.
The Finest Registries
Registry offices aren't exactly known for being the most beautiful venues. While some are definitely functional, there are also some seriously pretty registry offices around the UK that make for stunning backdrops for a romantic wedding ceremony.
Leeds Civil Hall
Leeds Town Hall is closed for renovations until 2023, so registry office weddings will be held at Leeds Civil Hall, which is great news for couples. The Grade II-listed structure is a true urban landmark.
Taunton's Old Municipal Buildings
Somerset Register Office is housed in a 16th-century building that includes a magnificent Tudor hall for wedding ceremonies. This can accommodate up to 100 people, but you can also opt for the '2 2' package, which includes just you, the registrar, and two witnesses.
London's Hackney Town Hall
Hackney Town Hall, which has been beautifully restored, is a treasure trove of Art Deco architecture and period features. Unlike many municipal buildings, it can host a reception as well as ceremonies.
Cheshire's Runcorn Town Hall
Runcorn Town Hall is a good choice for a registry office wedding if you want a country-house feel. The building was designed to look like an elegant Italian villa and is surrounded by tranquil gardens.
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Liverpool St Georges Hall
This Neo-Classical beauty is a stunning wedding venue that can accommodate up to 70 guests. The steps outside and the gardens are ideal locations for your first photos as newlyweds.
Edinburgh's City Chambers
The City Chambers, located in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town, is a richly atmospheric setting for a wedding. You'll have plenty of options for your reception within walking distance, but you can also dine on-site with the in-house caterers.
Lewes' Southover Grange
Southover Grange, a bewitchingly pretty 16th-century manor house with elegant décor and beautiful gardens, houses the Lewes Register Office.
London's Islington Town Hall
Who says registry offices can't be impressive? Inside and out, Islington Town Hall is impressive, with a variety of ceremony spaces. Make a point of taking a newlywed photo on the sweeping marble staircase.
READ MORE: 29 of London's Best Small Wedding Venues
Cheshunt Bishop's College
Cheshunt Register Office is housed in this Hertfordshire gem. The buildings were once a clergy training college, which explains the church-like architecture - the ceremony suite features vaulted ceilings and leaded windows.
Cardiff City Council
Cardiff's enormously impressive City Hall has ceremony spaces to accommodate a variety of guest lists, including the opulent Assembly Room, which can seat up to 500 people. The Marble Hall and Council Chamber are equally beautiful options for smaller weddings.
Coventry's Cheylesmore Manor
The Coventry Registry Office building is visually appealing. However, right next door is Cheylesmore Manor, a medieval royal palace used for ceremonies by the registry office. There are three ceremony rooms, two of which have aisles for you to enter.
The ceremony has been planned. Now save our ultimate wedding planning guide to your favorites so you don't miss a single detail for the rest of your celebration.
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